You’d think that in my two and a half years of living on the Chesapeake Bay, I would have learned a thing or two about crab. How to eat them, for example, specifically how to get inside of them in order to eat them. I sort of know how it works: there are mallets involved, and it’s messy, and the tables get covered with brown paper. That’s the extent of my crab disassembly knowledge.
Well, it was until last night. I somehow drew the holiday today at work and am off, so last night I decided to make some appetizers and ask people to get drunk at my house. We had:
- edamame hummus with lavash and baby carrots
- roasted artichoke salad with basil vinagrette and crostini
- bacon-wrapped dates with balsamic-red wine reduction
- blue cheese sampler (all cow’s milk; Amish blue, Italian gorgonzola, and English Shropshire) with walnuts and honey
- cocktail samosas with mango chutney
- shrimp and crab pastry cups with sauce gribiche (I’ll get to this in a minute)
- chocolate chip sour cream coffee cake
- Shannon’s venison Philly cheesesteaks
- Abbi’s teriyaki meatballs
- Jenny’s chicken shu mai dumplings
- Angelica’s pasta salad and taco dip
- Stephanie’s snack mix
- Graham’s chocolate chip-cranberry-macadamia nut cookies
I think that’s it. And because it was appetizers, everything was relatively easy to make. I also bothered planning ahead this time, so all of the cleaning was done beforehand. All of my ducks were in a row, so to speak, and I was kicking the ass of my to-do list.
Until that fucking crab.
The thing about St. Louis is that if you want to buy crab meat, you have to put forth a little bit of effort. Oh sure, krab meat is available everywhere, but if I wanted reconstituted chicken parts drenched in artificial flavoring, I’d buy a 50-pack of some Chicken McNuggets and call it a night. And, like Graham, I don’t eat a lot of crustaceans, so I wasn’t really sure how to go looking for crab meat.
So I bought some crab legs. Whole Foods had snow crab legs on sort-of sale (isn’t everything at Whole Foods on not really-sale, even when it is?), so I got like a pound and a half of these mean, gigantic-looking fuckers and took them home. In a large stockpot filled about 1/3 up with water, I dumped some whole mustard seed, black peppercorns, and Old Bay seasoning. Then I dropped a strainer basket in there and waited for it to boil. The shrimp (also gigantic-looking fuckers, but they were wild South American shrimp so I guess they’ve been eating assassinated members of drug cartels) were tossed in for about three minutes and taken out. While they waited in ice, I put the crab into the pot.
The Internet said to steam them for 5-8 minutes. When I could smell them and see they’d turned bright red, I took them out with tongs and rinsed them in cold water. Then the
fun absolute awfulness that I will never do again began.
Like many things I get myself into because I am overly confident when I have no reason to be…you know what, let me tell you why I was overly confident. I was overly confident because earlier, I’d made a sauce gribiche (recipe here, in case you’re interested). Sauce gribiche is a classic French sauce that’s sort of like tartar sauce. But it’s better. Ohmygod is it better. You start out by making a homemade garlic mayonnaise (like with egg yolks and lemon juice, none of this dumping garlic into a jar of mayonnaise business) and then add shallot, parsley, chives, tarragon, hard-cooked egg, and red wine vinegar. It. Was. Impressive. Any time I make a classic sauce, I get super pumped and feel way too good about myself.
Right, so I was overly confident and quickly realized that I had no fucking idea what to do with these crab legs. I tried twisting them apart, but snow crabs are big cockroach motherfuckers that live on the bottom of the ocean and will probably survive nuclear war. So I took out the most logical tools in my apartment: a hammer and a pair of pliers from my toolbox. Don’t worry, I rinsed them off.
The hammer turned out to be overkill, but the pliers were a smart move. The first set of crab legs was the most difficult. I thought I could crack a leg open and pull out a snowy white morsel of crab meat. Not so. When crab legs are still even the slightest bit warm, the meat sticks to the shells like crazy, and unless you’re short on time with company coming over (like I was), you’re just going to have to wait in order to get it out.
But I didn’t have time to wait. I only had time to get that goddamn crab out of its goddamn shell. So I murdered it. I attacked it with pliers and my fingers and all the forearm strength I could muster. I pulled as much meat out of those legs as possible, pausing only once to call Graham and tell him to get over here because I needed help (true to the Graham Delay, he didn’t show up for more than an hour. I made him take out the garbage). The second set of crab legs was easier, probably because they had cooled completely. They were easier but not easy, I should point out, and by the time I tossed the last crab carcass in the trash, I decided that I would probably not do this again.
While I have woken up many a time with a hangover and some mystery leg bruises, this was the first morning I experienced mystery hand gouges. Both of my index fingers have cuts at the top knuckle. One thumb has a papercut-looking slash across the entire width. Now, I know I didn’t host a Fight Club in my apartment last night, and nothing else I made would have yielded these injuries. It was that goddamn crab skeleton. That sharp, unyielding, haha-bitch-I-laugh-at-your-pliers crab skeleton. And if it wasn’t so crazy delicious, I would personally kick the ass of the next store that only sells krab meat.